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Our First School District Fight

What do you do if you disagree with your child’s school district? Here’s what we did when we found ourselves in our first school district disagreement.

When our child turned four, he finished up the year in his inclusion class at the school district pre-school. The class had a mixture of four-year-olds and three-year-olds. Around his birthday, we had our second IEP meeting and for the most part nothing was going to change with his services. He would continue to receive speech, OT, and remain in an inclusion class.

Toward the end of that year, I had been informed that our child would have to remain in the class with three and four-year-olds (and the teacher with a language barrier) for the entire upcoming school year.

I asked why hold my child back in a younger class with a teacher that we had barely approved? My child was ahead of his peers academically (except for reading comprehension) and continued to have trouble understanding his teacher. By this time, we knew the teacher in the older class and liked her a lot. We had been looking forward to our child advancing to her class.

I was told the reason was the older class did not have an inclusion spot available for our child. It was a numbers game, I was informed. The two available spots for the following school year were scheduled to be taken by twins that were in our child’s class. The birthday of the twins came two weeks earlier than our child’s birthday. That was the official reason.

I was confused. I told my husband and we balked immediately. Did we simply say, “okay,” and walk away? Not at all. I called the head guy in the school district special needs department.

I told him that my child’s IEP stated he was to be in an inclusion class (a class with a majority of “typical” students with 5-6 “inclusion” students). It also stated the need for an APPROPRIATE education. My husband and I objected based on these facts. Holding our older child back for an entire year in an inappropriate underage class was unacceptable!

What did we do?

The first thing we did was not panic. First, this news came to us in May of that year. The top guy and I had several months to figure out this situation. I explained our position and he told me he’d work on the problem.

Why was he so cooperative? I know him well now and I can report that the administrative is that type of administrator. He really does work hard for our/his special needs kids and tries hard to help us parents as well. I find him easy to talk to. That is my experience with him.

Also, in his heart of hearts, I believe he knew this problem was created unfairly by a numbers crunch and a money crunch. Yep, turns out it all came down to funding!

At the time, he had explained it to me like this: “We were funded differently this year so I could put six older kids in that class and make the split uneven at six and four. I didn’t have to do the five and five split the way the state mandated the splits because I was able to re-label a few of those spots so the funding worked out. Next year, the state has informed me that they are demanding the splits be equal. They want only five inclusion spots in each class. There is no wiggle room next year.”

I immediately tossed back some questions… “What if the number of kids just happens to be unequal? How do you expect to control the number of special needs kids that need spots? What if you just happened to have ten special needs three-year-olds and two special needs four-year-olds? Numbers vary every year! Why would the State of California be so strict as to create an unbendable policy that ignores the actual number of kids in any given program?”

My special needs buddy could only nod his head. He knew I was right. But, his job was the make the numbers match up with the funding. Make everything on paper look right. I knew he cared, but had to keep his own personal opinion on the back burner.

He said he’d work on the problem and I believed him. Still, I didn’t let him forget my child. Every couple of weeks I would bump into him at the school or give him a call to check on the progress of our problem. He’d always tell me, “I’m still working on it.”

Finally, in July of that summer, he called. He wanted to confirm some information with me. “Does your child attend a private pre-school in the afternoons?” (The school district pre-school was a mornings-only school.) I told him that my son did attend a local private school three days a week. He was bused there on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.

After confirming that, he told me his idea. His solution was to send our child to that pre-school as a school-district funded student. The school had a four-year-old class and they also had some experience with accepting special needs children with IEPs. He explained that it would only be a location change.

How did we react? We were thrilled with this news! We loved our child’s private pre-school so we quickly accepted his offer.

Of course, the final solution did end with one hitch. I called to arrange everything with the private pre-school. They did have a spot available in their class of four-year-olds, but that spot was only available three days a week!

What did we do? We remained flexible. We didn’t want to change private pre-schools. Our child was comfortable there and loved riding the bus from one school to another three days a week.

So, for one entire school year, our child went directly to a private pre-school three mornings a week which was funded by the school district. The other two mornings, he went to the school district pre-school and remained in the three-year-old class. However, the teacher of the four-year-olds would pull our child for instruction that was clearly more age appropriate.

When I said “flexible,” I meant it!

The good news is that our child did excellent with such a complicated schedule. It is never a bad idea to throw challenges at our kids. And, this schedule was quite a challenge for a four-year-old with autism. He behavioral aide went with him to whatever school he attended on whatever day. And, it turned out, the experience was worth it!

Turned out, I also had a big challenge. Each week, my one and only job was to think about what day it was and remember which school I had to take my child! And, I did it!

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